A screenshot of the website as it was on January 25th.

The Department of Police Accountability’s online process to file a complaint about a police officer has been offline since late last summer. And, yes, the number of complaints have declined.

While online complaints comprise only a fraction of the complaints filed — most are filed in person or by phone — it is another option for filing complaints at a time when the department is trying to make the process easier.

The broken website first came to light when Lt. Andy Cox from SFPD’s internal affairs, mentioned the problem at a Jan. 25 meeting of the working group that oversees the implementation of recommendations on accountability from the Department of Justice.

“It was down,” the other day, Lt. Cox said to explain why he could not get to the online form to show the committee.

When a Mission Local reporter looked at the site and noted that the online complaint system had been down “temporarily” since Aug. 30, he was surprised.

So were others in the room. “It is a challenge to understand how it could be down for so long,” Commander Migali Ali, deputy chief of the special operations bureau, said after the meeting.

Why hasn’t it been fixed?

“The person who created and maintained it has resigned and we are seeking to replace that system,” said John Alden, a staff attorney with the Department of Police Accountability.  “We have started talking to the office of technology to fix it. We only have one IT person and it has caused a series of our IT projects to be delayed. Part of the challenge is it needs to be a long-term solution.”

Frank Leidman, a lawyer representing the San Francisco Bar Association, said after the meeting that he would be willing to loan them an IT person.

Ash Bhat, a U.C. Berkeley engineering student who has built out apps and systems took a look at the department’s website and had this response:  “I’m not too sure about how they set it up, but pretty confused why it’s taken that long,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If the functionality is similar to something like a Google form, I can’t imagine that it would be that complicated of a system. A simple solution could be built from scratch in a day.”

And, Bhat had this advice: “Honestly, worst case, if they truly had no IT people around, they could put up a simple form through a service like forms.google.com/Typeform.com to bridge the gap in the meantime (no programming required).”

By Sunday evening when we checked the site again, a new message on the upper-left column of the homepage asked viewers to file by e-mail, convenient and arguably a form of online filing.  This replaced the Aug. 30 notice that the online complaint system was down.

The homepage has been refreshed to ask residents to file by email.

The office still has a link to an online complaint form on the page where it describes the various ways complaints can be filed, and it still doesn’t work. 

Until the online form returns, residents who want to file a complaint can mail or file in person at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 700, call 415-241-771 or email a description of the complaint to dpa.complaints@sfgov.org.  A PDF of a complaint form is here. 




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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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